Whey Protein: The Ultimate Guide

Whey Protein

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey. This is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. Milk contains two main types of protein: casein (80%) and whey (20%). Whey is found in the watery portion of milk. When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a byproduct. If you want to see whey in its liquid form, open a container of yogurt and you will typically see liquid floating at the top. This is whey. Cheese makers would actually discard this liquid whey before its commercial value was discovered. Now, whey protein is all the rage.

How Does Whey Become Whey Protein?

The separation process of cheese production gives us whey. Now, whey goes through processing steps to become what we recognize as whey powder. The problem with whey in this powdered form is that pure whey powder is not tasty on its own. For that reason, we see protein powders in all various types of flavors from chocolate, vanilla, to many more exotic flavors. I still get surprised by how specific some of these protein powder flavors are. Once in powder form, whey powder is used for protein shakes, protein bars, meal replacements, baking, and more.

Essential Amino Acids in Whey Protein

Whey contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly into your body. Read the 2003 study from The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry to find out more about how fast the absorption of amino acids is.

How Many Grams of Protein Are in Whey Protein?

A typical whey protein powder contains 20-30 grams of protein per serving. Without extra additives such as sugars, these powders are relatively low in calories compared to the amount of protein in each serving. Using the better types of protein powders without added sugars is a great way to ingest 50 grams of quality protein very quickly.

Types of Protein in Milk?

Milk is made of two proteins, casein (80%) and whey (20%). Whey can be separated from the casein in milk or formed as a by-product of cheese making. Whey is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Also, whey is low in lactose content.

Fast Facts on Whey Protein

  • Whey is a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobins
  • Possible benefits include weight loss and lowering cholesterol (A study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, gave whey supplements to 70 overweight men and women for 12 weeks and measured a number of parameters, such as lipid and insulin levels. They found that “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the whey group compared with the casein (group).”)
  • Possible dangers include nausea and headaches, but at moderate doses, whey is not considered dangerous

Benefits of Whey Protein

There are many benefits associated with the consumption of whey. Researchers are constantly finding new possible therapeutic properties.

People commonly use whey as supplementation, alongside resistance exercise, to help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle mass.

Side Effects of Whey

Whey does not typically cause any adverse events. However, consuming very high doses can cause:

  • stomach pains
  • cramps
  • reduced appetite
  • nausea
  • headache
  • fatigue

Proteins are the building blocks of the contractile elements in your muscles. They are assembled from amino acids, smaller molecules that are linked together like beads on a string. Some amino acids are produced by your body’s cells, while others are supplied by the food you eat. Proteins that supply all nine essential amino acids are the best, and whey protein is loaded with them. Whey is particularly high in important branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine, and also contains a high amount of cysteine.

Types of Whey: Concentrate vs. Isolate vs. Hydrolysate

There are several popular types of whey. And, their main difference is in the way they have been processed.

Whey Concentrate: About 70–80% protein; contains some lactose (milk sugar) and fat and has the best flavor.

Whey Isolate: 90% protein, or higher; contains less lactose and fat and lacks a lot of the beneficial nutrients found in whey concentrate.

Whey Hydrolysate: Also known as hydrolyzed whey, this type has been pre-digested so that it gets absorbed faster. It causes a 28–43% greater spike in insulin levels than isolate.

Whey concentrate is the cheapest variation and retains most of the beneficial nutrients found naturally in whey. Many people also prefer the taste, which is probably due to the lactose and fat.

If you have problems tolerating concentrate, or you are trying to emphasize protein while keeping carbs and fat low, whey isolate, or even hydrolysate, may be a better option.

Read the review of MusclePharm Combat 100% Whey and Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Whey. If you are looking for protein recipes, check out our Whey Mug Cake recipe, our Oats & Honey Protein Bar recipe, or our Chocolate Coffee Protein Shake recipe.

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